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Iraqi refugee crisis underscored by Presiding Bishop


Episcopal Migration Ministries director insists resettlement must be a priority.
One week after the nation recognized the fourth anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori issued a letter March 28 in response to a hearing in the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and Asia concerning the Iraqi refugee crisis.

The Presiding Bishop’s letter, including a copy of the recently passed Executive Council resolution addressing the severe humanitarian crisis of refugees and others being displaced by the ongoing violence resulting from the war in Iraq (INC-017), was delivered to Representative Gary Ackerman (D-New York), chairman of the subcommittee, to be submitted for the Congressional record.

To date, more than two million refugees are reportedly living in Iraq’s neighboring countries of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Turkey. “It is also clear that the humanitarian needs of this constant influx of displaced persons from Iraq far exceeds the ability of host countries to respond,” said Jefferts Schori in her letter. “There is on-the-ground evidence that many are now living without access to medical care and that children lack access to schools. This pressure on neighboring countries could deepen the crisis for these displaced persons.”

Borders are becoming harder to cross as these countries are unable to handle the needs of the refugees, and repatriation to a war-torn homeland is not a viable option, Richard Parkins, director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, said, insisting that for the most vulnerable of these refugees, including those with an association with the U.S. operations in Iraq, resettlement must be a priority of the U.S. government.

“Such action would be an honorable and compassionate response to the crisis and offer some relief to countries whose hospitality is being strained by this ongoing movement of refugees,” he said.

As the Iraqi refugee crisis heightens, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is convening a special meeting of concerned governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Geneva from April 16-19 to discuss strategies to protect the growing number of at-risk persons. As chair of the Refugee Council USA, Parkins will be a member of the U.S. delegation at these meetings. Parkins also testified recently as a witness before the House subcommittee dealing with the Labor/Health and Human Services Appropriation Bill for FY 2008. He noted in his remarks to the committee the need for additional resources to respond to the needs that will confront U.S. communities called upon to receive Iraqi refugees.

It is estimated that 2,000 Iraqi refugees could be received by the U.S. this year with another 5,000 reaching U.S. shores in 2008.

U.S. NGOs are pressing for a more proactive response from the government in resettling refugees with U.S. connections and those -- such as women and children -- whose vulnerability requires immediate rescue.


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